Progress for Shelby County

Many of the challenges that Memphis & Shelby County face are interrelated.  From health disparities to crime, to economic empowerment, there are many underlying issues that we need to address proactively in order to move Shelby County Forward.  As a member of the County Commission, I will work to approve and implement policy that is beneficial to all District 2 residents.

The experience that I have gained as a community organizer reflects in many ways the qualities that I believe are most important in an elected official: ability to identify with the people that he serves; patience to work with others and find common ground; and strong sense of integrity and purpose.  My priorities as County Commissioner for District 2 will include improving communications between the County government and the voting public. This will be done though creating more opportunity for interaction. It is important that we stop “plugging into the community,” but instead become hardwired so there is constant communication.

Next is to do a comprehensive overview of each of the agencies under our charge to weed out waste and inefficiency. We should strive to improve the working environment for our employees and to insure that each client is fairly and properly served.

Finally I want to enhance our job market through supporting our small businesses and enticing new businesses to relocate to our shining bluff.  My extended platform for Shelby County progress is:

Our Economy

Economic Development is my number one priority. Getting our citizens back to work will be my focus in the coming years as your County Commissioner. Much of the problems that we see stem from the financial instability of our families. I will work closely with both Mayors to remove roadblocks and build incentives to bring more businesses to our City and County.  Jobs – Our citizens must have livable wage jobs. This starts by finding innovative ways to help our local small business owners succeed as well as identifying effective strategies that will work to attract new businesses to our area. In 2007 with the help of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and First Tennessee Bank I started the Opportunity Bank*, which provides training and financial support to those wishing to start their own business. 

Unemployment and underemployment has a negative impact on nearly every service under the City and County - from the MED to the jail to our school system. We must get our people back to work if we plan to have any impact on these other issues.

*Opportunity Bank. This initiative offers a 12-week program that gives mostly single mothers the skills to operate their own small businesses. Often these ladies struggle between taking on a second job, which takes them away from their family or staying home, which reduces the family income. Through the Opportunity Bank these mothers are able to start home base businesses that allow them to generate the needed additional income while still spending time with their families. After these business women graduate, we provide them with funding up to $5,000 to purchase the equipment or supplies necessary to get their business off of the ground.

 Our Environment

When community residents are asked to name some of the core problems their neighborhoods face, blight is always in the top three. As a current Commissioner for Memphis City Beautiful I am committed to working with local civic groups to insure they have a greater voice in our effort to address issues such as litter, blight, and unkept properties. In previous years, I have worked closely with fine organizations such as the Sierra Club and Memphis Heritage to improve the esthetics of our beautiful City and County. Recently, Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford appointed me to the Core City Development, Redevelopment and Revitalization Task Force. Our mission will be to focus on ways to improve the quality of life for our residents. I have also been leading an ongoing effort against a local refinery that was releasing benzene, a carcinogen, into the surrounding air of an urban community – and eventually into the lungs of the residents. After eight years of fighting, The Environmental Protection Agency moved in and fined the refinery over two million dollars for environmental violations. Some of those funds came back to the community.

Health Advocacy

The challenges that the MED is facing are well known and need to be addressed, but the concern goes far beyond the MED. We are dealing with individuals who use the emergency room as their primary doctor because they have no other choice. It will be critical for Shelby County to direct its attention toward preventive care options and increasing the number of care-providers and clinics in areas where attention is most needed. Shelby County has the highest infant mortality rate in the entire country. In Memphis the highest percentage of infant mortality cases is found in the 38106 zip code, which are neighborhoods found in District 2.   In 2009, I raised funds to build a resource center to address pre- and post natal mothers. This Center, which is called TheMOTHERCenter will provide mothers with free medical examinations, nutritional guidance, and social resource assistance.  We are set to break ground in the summer of 2010. 

A long-term solution to address financing for the MED should also include a firm agreement between local government officials and leaders in neighboring counties and states that utilize MED services, requiring them to cover the costs associated with medical services provided to residents outside of Shelby County. Each year the MED spends 24 million dollars providing services to clients from Arkansas and Mississippi. This can not continue. These states must pay their fair share and Shelby County should use all legal means possible to correct this loss.

Our Youth

Each year hundreds of youth in Shelby County “age-out” of the care of the Department of Children’s Services when they turn eighteen. These are children who never find a permanent home. Studies have shown within the first year on their own 25% will be incarcerated. These young adults have a higher use of drugs/alcohol, pregnancy and unemployment compared to those who find a family. Concerned by these alarming numbers, I coordinated a meeting with one of the largest foundations serving foster children in the United States, the Jim Casey Foundation.  For forty years this Foundation has spearheaded initiatives throughout the country. One of their core projects is the Opportunity Passport™. This unique service provides those youth who are leaving the care of DCS with a bridge to adulthood. With Individual Development Accounts participants are able to have their savings matched dollar-for-dollar. These funds can then be used for a down payment on a home, rental expenses, or college tuition. Also while they are building their savings they receive counseling on financial budgeting, drug prevention, anger management, parenting and goal setting. This wonderful initiative is being operated in over a dozen cities across the country, but not here in Shelby County. After nearly a year of negotiations I was able to secure this program and bring it to Memphis. This means hundreds of foster youth will now have desperately needed support and the City will see hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing into our communities. Recently we took ownership of a 9,000 square foot facility that will be used to provide a resource center for these former foster youth to meet and receive needed services.                                                                                                

Our Communities

What about our neighborhood associations? For years these civic groups have been on the frontline when it came to crime, beautification, and community development. In recent years these organizations have found themselves struggling to survive. What they need is support. In the year 2000 I left my position with the City of Memphis as the City’s Neighborhood Specialist and started a nonprofit (SMA Inc.) to provide financial and technical support to local neighborhood associations. Today there is an active alliance of over ten associations working together on common problems including neighborhood blight, crime and youth development. We own and operate out of a 3,000 square foot office building that also serves as the meeting site for several of the community groups that we serve.

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